Replica edition News Obituaries Sports Opinion Community Religion Special Sections Photos Contact Us Email Updates
story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy photo Noel Fire Chief Brandon Barrett poses for a photo after the department extinguished a fire earlier this year.

Billy Wade's life as a storm chaser and breaking news photojournalist is literally all over the place.

He likes it that way.

One day, he hears of a fire in Noel that he finds to capture on film. The next day, he may be traveling within the four-state area in hopes of documenting wicked storms, maybe a tornado.

Next week, he takes homecoming photos at McDonald County High School or prepares for a photo shoot of the K-9 unit in Anderson.

As a former fireman, he enjoys covering the work of policemen and firemen, who work tirelessly to keep their communities safe. Wade strives to show their hard work on-scene.

The freelance photographer is based in Neosho, but races to McDonald County and other towns in the four-state area to cover storms and breaking news.

His video footage has aired on CNN, Fox News and The Weather Channel.

Two years ago, Wade put almost 60,000 miles on his car, traveling to storms and breaking news.

This year, Wade already has racked up 7,000 miles.

"It gets extreme."

Scanner's On

Over the scanner, Wade heard of a fire in Noel. He and a buddy raced there, found a tanker and asked personnel if the fire was down in the "holler."

It was.

"Once on-scene, I talked to the chief. He said, 'We would love to have you take photos,'" Wade said. "I also asked him if I could take some of the firefighters inside the structure after the fire was out. I love to show the integrity of their work."

The self-taught photographer and news journalist has covered breaking news since 2012. He has covered storms for nine years. The first tornado he covered was on May 10, 2008, in Pitcher, Okla. He and a buddy constantly watch the weather, looking for outbreaks. He plans his schedule so he can take off and chase storms. Sometimes, like on this day, he's over in Stilwell, planning for a senior photo shoot but also hoping to capture a storm that may break out in a couple of days.

Wade practices safety while chasing storms. "You never want to drive into a tornado," he said, "or be the incident."

He's learned to position himself safely and has been asked to give storm spotter classes.

Wade sees his role as an educator and documentarian.

"There are ways to understand and educate through images," he said.

"I tell a story. I don't like death and destruction, but people can remember it in photos."

Wade often stays after the incident, giving the investigator some photos that can be used as documentation later. Photos can sometimes jog memories or, in the case of a wreck, provide additional evidence after the fact, he said.

Work Is His Passion

Wade grabs about five hours of sleep a night if he's lucky. He keeps his scanner on 24 hours a day, to alert him of storms or other incidents brewing.

On this day, he's been up since 4:30 a.m. His head hit the pillow just three hours earlier.

"It's a lot of work. I have $20 in my pocket right now, but I have a roommate, so that helps on expenses," he said.

Wade's dream job is to cover events on an international basis. Though tragic, Wade said he would have jumped at the chance to photograph the Notre Dame fire.

For now, he enjoys the more local challenge of covering domestic incidents, wreck, fires and tragedies.

Over the years, he's learned the best way to approach a situation, documenting but staying out of the way to allow emergency personnel and police officers room to effectively do their job.

In California, deceased people can be photographed. In other states, they cannot. Wade has learned what is ethical and legal. He also doesn't want to impede or alter the scene in any way.

"I've learned what to shoot and not to shoot," he said.

Though others don't like to think much about it, he likes to capture policemen and firemen in professional quality, yet unique, photos.

That way, in case of tragedy, he can give the family comfort in the future.

"The photos give peace to the family. The photos continue to live their legacy forever," he said.

Abandoned landmarks and Mother Nature's creations also pique his interest. He seeks out historic landmarks, and unique perspectives, such as gnarly storm formations and scenic sunsets.

He also feels it's important to document occurrences for historical purposes, to educate people and to provide an element of preservation.

As he races to cover a tornado or fire, he revels in the fact that he's lucky enough to have the time and energy to take off, chasing his dreams.

"I'm exhausted, but it's an interesting life," he said.

"I live to do another shoot."

General News on 05/09/2019

Print Headline: Chasing His Dreams

Sponsor Content